Court: Trump’s Illegal Consent Procedure for Refugee Resettlement

As discussed in a prior post, on September 28, 2019, President Trump issued an executive order requiring written consents by states and local governments for the federal government’s resettlement of refugees, and other posts have discussed the issuance to date of such consents by at least 40 states.[1]

On January 15, however, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland preliminarily ruled that this executive order was invalid and ordered that its enforcement be temporarily halted.[2]

The Court’s Opinion

The court’s opinion on this issue occurred in a civil lawsuit for preliminary and final injunctive relief against this executive order that was brought by three nonprofit refugee resettlement agencies—HIJAS, Inc., Church World Service, Inc. and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service [3]—and in the court’s justification for its granting their motion for a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of this executive order while the case proceeds to final judgment.

The court concluded that the well-established principles for preliminary injunction had been established: (1) “the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits;” (2) “they will suffer irreparable harm that is neither remote nor speculative, but actual and imminent if the injunction is not granted;” (3) “the balance of equities favor their position;” and (4) “the relief they seek is in the public interest.” (Memorandum Opinion at 16.) The key issues for the current legitimate public attention to this case are the court’s opinion on the merits and the public interest.

After a careful analysis, the court concluded that the executive order’s “grant of veto power [to state and local governments] over the resettlement of refugees within their borders ”is arbitrary and capricious . . . as well as inherently susceptible to hidden bias” and is “unlawful” based upon “statutory text and structure, purpose, legislative purpose, judicial holdings, executive practice, the existence of a serious constitutional concern over federal preemption, and numerous arbitrary and capricious administrative deficiencies.” (Memorandum Opinion at 17-27.)

The court also concluded that a preliminary injunction against the President’s executive order was in the public interest by “keeping ‘the President from slipping the boundaries of statutory policy and acting based on irrelevant policy preferences,’. . . having governmental agencies abide by federal laws that govern their existence and operations, . . . [and preventing] States and Local Governments [from having] the power to veto where refugees may be resettled –in the face of clear statutory text and structure, purpose, Congressional intent, executive practice, judicial holdings, and Constitutional doctrine to the contrary.” (Memorandum Opinion at 30-31.)

Conclusion

The Federal Government has a right to appeal this decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, but has not expressed any intent to do so. In the meantime, officials in the U.S. State Department, state and local governments, the resettlement agencies and refugees themselves are confused about what to do next.

This case arbitrarily was assigned by the District Court’s Clerk to Senior District Judge Peter J. Messitte, who on August 6, 1993, was nominated by President Bill Clinton and on October 18, 1993, confirmed by the U.S. Senate; on September 1, 2008, he assumed senior status. Judge Messitte is a graduate the University of Chicago Law School, where he was a classmate of this blogger. His undergraduate degree is from Amherst College.[4]

===================================

[1] See Latest U.S. Struggle Over Refugees, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 11, 2019);   posts to dwkcommentaries.com. relating to refugee resettlement.

[2] Memorandum Opinion, HIJAS, Inc. v. Trump, Civil No. PJM 19-3346 (D. Md. Jan. 15, 2020); Order, Hias, Inc. v. Trump, Civil No. PJM 19-3346 (D. Md. Jan. 15, 2020); Marimow & Sacchetti, Federal judge temporarily halts Trump administration policy allowing local governments to block refugees, Wash. Post (Jan. 15, 2020); Assoc. Press, Judge Halts Trump’s Order Allowing States to Block Refugees, N.Y. Times (Jan. 15, 2020).

[3] The three plaintiff resettlement agencies are members of nine designated “’Resettlement Agencies’ that enter into annual agreements with the Federal Government to provide services to these refugees under the current [U.S.] resettlement program.” (Memorandum Opinion at 1.) The plaintiffs were supported by amici briefs from 12 states, including Minnesota; from the U.S. Conference of Mayors along with 11 mayors and cities, including Minneapolis; and various faith-based organizations with hundreds of affiliates throughout the U.S.  (Id. at 2 (n.2).)

The amici brief for the states asserted the following arguments: (I) The Executive Order Violates the Refugee Act and Interferes with the States’ Sovereign Interests;” (II) “The Refugee Resettlement Consent Process Harms the States’ Refugee Communities;” (III) “The Refugee Resettlement Consent Process Burdens the Staters’ Resources;” (A) Amici States Have Created Highly Effective Refugee Resettlement Systems;” (B) “The Executive Order’s Consent Process Burdens State Refugee Resettlement Programs.” (Brief of the States of California, et al. As Amici Curiae in Support of Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction, Hias, Inc. v. Trump, Civil No. PJM 19-3346 (D. Md. Dec. 13, 2019).)

[4] Peter Jo Messitte, Wikipedia; U.S. Dist. Ct., Dist, Md, Peter J. Messitte.

 

Federal Appellate Court Allows Lawsuit by Guantanamo Detainees

On February 11th the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Washington, D.C. ruled, 2 to 1, that the federal courts had jurisdiction over habeas corpus petitions by three detainees challenging their being subjected to force-feeding at  the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Therefore, the court reversed the district court’s dismissal of the petitions and remanded the cases to that court for further proceedings. (Aamer v. Obama, No. 13-5223 (D.C. Cir. Feb. 11, 2014).)[1]

These claims arose after a major hunger strike at Guantánamo a year ago. Detainees who lost sufficient weight were forced to eat a nutritional supplement.

The Majority Opinion

1. Federal courts’ jurisdiction.

The key issue for the court was whether habeas jurisdiction was forbidden by section 7(1) of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (“MCA”), which provided as follows:

  • “No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.”
Judge David S. Tatel
Judge David S. Tatel

In reaching its conclusion that this provision did not foreclose jurisdiction, the court in an opinion by Circuit Judge David S. Tatel that was joined by Circuit Judge Thomas B. Griffith started with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. 723 (2008).

In Boumediene the Supreme Court held that this statutory section was unconstitutional under Article One, Section 9, Clause 2 of the U.S, Constitution (the Suspension Clause), which states, “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.” This was so, held the Supreme Court, because there was no other means for a Guantanamo detainee to attempt to show that he was being held pursuant to an erroneous application or interpretation of relevant law before a court with the power to order his conditional release.

The next step in the analysis was determining that the D.C. Circuit’s own subsequent decisions had decided that Boumediene had invalidated section 7(1) of the MCA for all habeas petitions by Guantanamo detainees. As a result, the determinative issue for the majority in Aamer was whether these petitioners’ claims were the sort that properly could be raised in habeas petitions.

The circuit court then concluded that these claims were properly within the scope of habeas corpus. This was so, the majority stated, because (a) the Supreme Court had suggested that habeas covers claims challenging conditions of confinement while leaving the issue open for that Court’s decision in a future case; (b) the D.C. Circuit’s own binding precedents had established that “one in custody may challenge the conditions of his confinement “ by a habeas petition; and (c) “the weight of the reasoned precedent” in other circuits had reached the same conclusion.

2. Preliminary injunction.

The detainees on appeal also challenged the district court’s denial of their requests for preliminary injunctive relief against their force-feeding, but the D.C. Circuit affirmed that denial because they had not shown likelihood of success on the merits.

This was so even though the appellate court said,”[W]e have no doubt that force-feeding is a painful and invasive process that raises serious ethical concerns.” But “it is not enough for us to say that force-feeding may cause physical pain, invade bodily integrity, or even implicate petitioners’ fundamental individual rights.”

The majority in Aamer recognized that this claim for injunctive relief had to be evaluated under Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987), which held that “the legality of a prison regulation that ‘impinges on’ an inmate’s constitutional rights” must be upheld if it “’is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.’”

Here, said the majority, the government had asserted two penological interests: “preserving the lives of those in its custody and maintaining security and discipline in the detention facility.”  These were legitimate interests as “the overwhelming majority of courts have concluded . . . that absent exceptional circumstances prison officials may force-feed a starving inmate actually facing the risk of death.”

The Dissent

Senior Judge Stephen F. Williams’ dissenting opinion concluded that the majority should have followed what he deemed to be Congress’s intentions in enacting the MCA and affirmed the dismissal of the cases. Congress, he said, “unmistakably sought to prevent the federal courts from entertaining claims based on detainees’ conditions of confinement.” “Such evident congressional intent would seem to counsel a cautious rather than a bravura reading” of whether such claims fell into the category of habeas corpus lawsuit.

Conclusion

We now wait to find out what the government will do. Ask the entire D.C. Circuit (en banc) to rehear the case?   Petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case? Or return to the district court and litigate the claims there?

The majority in this case emphasized that they were only addressing the likelihood of the petitioners’ succeeding on their claims for preliminary injunctive relief, and not the actual merits. But the majority’s analysis and language, in my opinion, suggests that it is highly unlikely that the petitioners would succeed on the merits.

This case is not the only one involving Guantanamo detainees before the D.C. Circuit.

On February 21, 2014, Judge Tatel joined by Circuit Judges Janice Rogers Brown and A. Raymond Randolph heard oral arguments in an appeal from a dismissal of a complaint for money damages by six such detainees against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former U.S. military officials for alleged torture, religious abuse and other mistreatment at Guantanamo. (Allaithi v. Rumsfeld, No. 13-5096 (D.C. Cir.).) The main issues in this case are the following:

  • whether the claims are barred by the Westfall Act (28 U.S.C. sec. 2679), which makes lawsuits against the U.S. the exclusive remedy for injury “arising or resulting from the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any [government] employee while acting within the scope of his office or employment;” and
  • whether the defendants are immune from such a suit.

A decision on this case should issue later this year.


[1] The D.C. Circuit’s opinion was reported in the New York Times and Associated Press. Judge Tatel is a University of Chicago Law School classmate and friend of the blogger.